ann arbor – Michigan played from behind, understaffed with key players on the touchline, and relied on kicker Jake Moody to sustain the Wolverines’ perfect scoring season.
Moody hit four field goals, including a game-winning 35-yard field goal with nine seconds left to win Michigan 19-17 over Illinois in the final game of the season at Michigan Stadium.
“Moody is money. Every time Moody goes on the field all nerves calm down,” said Mazi Smith, nose tackle, on UM radio after the game.
Last season, Moody told reporters that when he can’t fall asleep, he thinks about all the different game-winning scenarios.
“When I go into every game, I like to think about different kicks,” Moody said last fall. “Could be a game winner, could be an extra point.”
Because of Moody, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, Michigan, the No. 3 team in the College Football Playoffs, remains unbeaten 11-0, 8-0, 8-0 Big Ten and will play in Ohio State, the No. 2 team Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
The Wolverines hobbled into this game with running back Donovan Edwards, along with left guard Trevor Keegan, tight end Luke Schoonmaker, and edge rusher Mike Morris. Schoonmaker and Morris wore uniform but did not play.
But things took a turn for the worse for the Wolverines when leading rusher Blake Corum, who has carried the offense all season, suffered an apparent left knee injury just before halftime. He ran onto the field after halftime and came in for a game but was held out for the rest of the game.
Without his confident running game, Michigan’s often-criticized passing game struggled. Sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy and receivers struggled to find some consistency. McCarthy was 18 of 34 for 208 yards.
Michigan’s defense came through late in the game, forcing Illinois, who held their 17-16 lead, to punt to 4th-and-13. The Wolverines got the ball at his 48-yard line on the punt. They converted in fourth place – they were 3 of 4 in the game – and a pass interference on a pass to Ronnie Bell put Michigan at Illinois’ 22-yard line.
Michigan built a 10-3 lead in the second half from a 46-yard field goal from Moody, but Illinois, threatened late in the first half, found a groove and capitalized on a Michigan defense missing edge rusher , Mike Morris. Morris left last week’s game with about six minutes left with an undisclosed injury and was in uniform against Illinois but did not play.
The Illini stopped on a 4th-and-1 twice, the second time from a false start, rushed for 67 yards in nine games in the first half and tied the game 10-10 on an eight-yard touchdown run from Chase Brown.
On Michigan’s next drive, the Wolverines continued on May 4th-and-6 at the Illinois 37 and McCarthy clearly thought the Illini were offside and had open play, tossing Andrel Anthony deep in the end zone. Anthony dropped the pass. Illinois was not called for a penalty, although the Wolverines requested that they be.
Brown, whose status was unclear in that game after suffering an injury last week, gave the Illini the lead, 17-10, the next drive on a 37-touchdown run. Michigan entered the game with the nation’s No. 1 rush defense, averaging 72.7 yards per game and giving up more rushing yards than it had all season. Brown finished with 29 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wolverines had a scare late in the first half when Corum, who has captained that team all season and was on the Heisman Trophy talk, suffered what appeared to be a left knee injury and was down 1:36 in the first half
Corum fiddled with the game and was able to leave the field and go straight to the dressing room. The junior, who scored with a two-yard run in the first quarter, ran onto the field coming from halftime. He came on for one game but was sidelined for the rest of the half. He finished with 18 carries for 108 yards and also had two catches for 39 yards. Sophomore running back Donovan Edwards was out of uniform having recently suffered an undisclosed injury, so Michigan went with backups CJ Stokes and Isaiah Gash.
Without Corum, Michigan’s offense struggled, looking sloppy in the first half.
Trailing 17-10, the defense left the field after Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito fumbled a snap to force a 4th-and-19 situation and on the next play Michigan receiver Ronnie Bell, filling in on returns with AJ Henning, took the punt 40 yards on the return to the Illinois 38. But Michigan couldn’t get much going and opted for Jake Moody’s second field goal, this time from 41 yards to draw within 17-13.
The Wolverines’ defense came up with another big game. Stopping the Illini in fourth place with a stop by RJ Moten. The Illini were 2-0 in fourth place after a third chance was shattered by an Illinois penalty. The teams are 8 of 26 in fourth place against Michigan.
Michigan went on a 12-play drive that included a key fourth down conversion on a nine-yard pass to Roman Wilson, but the Wolverines got away with another Moody field goal, this time from 33 yards.